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Nakayama Festa (right)
Historic Day for Japanese Runners
Fans of Japanese racing took heart in a remarkable showing by a Japanese runner in one of Europe’s most prestigious turf events, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1, 2,400m). Nakayama Festa (JPN, C4, by Stay Gold), the Yoshitaka Ninomiya-trained colt, crossed the wire a mere head behind the winner, Michael Stoute-trained Workforce (GB, C3, by King’s Best), to become the first Japanese runner in 11 years to finish second in the Arc. El Condor Pasa (USA), who accomplished the feat in 1999, was also trained by Ninomiya.
This was the first time for Japan ever to send two runners to the Arc in the same year. Katsuhiko Sumii-trained Victoire Pisa (JPN, C3, by Neo Universe), the first Japanese three-year-old runner in Arc history, finished seventh (promoted from eighth) in a field of 19. The achievements of both horses were well appreciated considering that out of eight previous Japanese runners in the Arc, only El Condor Pasa and Deep Impact had finished within 10th (although Deep Impact was later disqualified).
Nakayama Festa is sired by Stay Gold (JPN, by Sunday Silence), a G1 winner of the 2001 Hong Kong Vase (G1, 2,400m) and a four-time runner in the Japan Cup between 1998 and 2001. Bred in Hokkaido, he was put up for sale in the yearling section of the 2007 Japan Racing Horse Association (JRHA) Select Sale and was purchased for 10 million yen, which was slightly above the average price for yearlings that year.
Breaking his maiden in his second career start in the Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes (1,800m), Nakayama Festa ran in all three Triple Crown classics—Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas, 2,000m), Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby, 2,400m) and Kikuka Sho (Japanese St. Leger, 3,000m)—but finished eighth, fourth and 12th respectively. Owing to the temperamental nature inherited from his sire, Nakayama Festa did not attract a strong following and was sent to post favorite only once, in the Keisei Hai (G3, 2,000m), finishing second. After marking his second grade-race victory in the St. Lite Kinen (2,200m), he plunged to double-digit finishes in his next two starts. From the beginning of his four-year-old season, however, the bay colt has shown fine form. Fresh from a four-month spell, he won his kick-off start in the Metropolitan Stakes (2,400m). He then was sent to post eighth choice in an all-star turf G1, the Takarazuka Kinen (G1, 2,200m), where he nailed down top favorite filly and Dubai Sheema Classic (G1, 2,410m) runner-up, Buena Vista (JPN, F4, by Special Week), to claim his first G1 title in June. He was shipped to France in August 9 and performed well away from home, turning in a runner-up effort in the step-up race to the Arc, the Prix Foy (G2, 2,400m).
The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe turned out to be a fierce battle as the large field of 19 runners fought for position. Rated mid-division, Nakayama Festa was briefly held up some 800 meters out, but then came on strongly at the straight to duel with Workforce, who had emerged from the inside. The race concluded with Workforce making full use of his 3.5 kg advantage to claim the title, but the Stay Gold-colt’s performance was well above expectations.
His predecessor, El Condor Pasa (USA, by Kingmambo), who had been bred with special intention of becoming a stud outside Japan, produced outstanding results against top competitors in Japan before making his own challenge in France. Nakayama Festa, however, has been a less-than-spectacular racehorse of average price and pedigree, so the outstanding achievement by this common runner in mid-career has given a big boost to the Japanese horse racing industry. Prior to Nakayama Festa, Japan’s last overseas G1 title had come in 2007 with Shadow Gate (JPN) in the Singapore Airlines International Cup (G1, 2,000m). Nakayama Festa’s accomplishment has helped to restore confidence in the quality of Japanese thoroughbreds and their ability to compete internationally based on experience gained from overseas endeavors since the late 1990s.
The colt has been kept in training since returning to Japan on October 6, but whether the Japan Cup will be his next target is yet to be decided.